Last night PIC and I went to a showing of the film Running the Sahara at the Starz film theatre. The documentary follows three runners as they run the entirety of the Sahara dessert without a single days break, 4,300 miles. It took them 111 days and while there is no way the movie could completely portray the journey, we sure got a good taste of it! It’s three dudes, so there is a fair amount of gruffness, and farting, but all in all I really fell in love with the characters…most of them.
There were a few parts of the film that really stuck out to me from a runners standpoint.
- I was pleasantly reminded that whether you run a marathon, or 177 of them in a row there is a process to a run. The early excitement and anticipation of your adventure, the wear-off of the honeymoon stage, the boredom stage, the irritable stage, and finally the quiet stage where you just can’t wait to be done, and you don’t think you’ll make it. Although the runners were out of gas and had lost substantial weight when they completed the journey, if there had been 500 more miles, I’m sure they would have made it. There is something about the finish of an epic journey that doesn’t seem to change. Mind games.
- The three runners had completely different personalities and that seemed to make a huge difference (in a good way). There was a slave driver, a noble knight, and a guy who just refused to let a smile leave his face. Each of these personalities were needed at various times, and it made me think about my own training partners in a different light. The guy who seemed to appreciate it all was Ray Zahab and I’ll talk a little more about him later.
- These guys were runners when they started, they were all pretty kick butt, but the journey is what trained them for the journey. Sometimes you just have to do the best you can with training, knowing full well that the adventure will bring something completely new.
So after the showing of the film, Ray Zahab was there to answer questions about the film. This was definitely my favorite part. Throughout the movie Ray seemed to be the most “real”. He loved on his wife when she was on the expedition, and he lived in the moment when he was running.
Hearing him speak was REALLY inspiring. I’m sure I won’t do him any justice, but I will try to highlight a few things that stood out to me.
- He spoke a little about his past. He had only been running 2 years before the expedition and used to smoke a pack a day, among other vices. He spoke about the fact that he was just a normal guy, he was “any” guy. He woke up and made a change, and anyone can, at any time.
- He spoke about the expedition and how very quickly it became something “bigger than himself”. He had a story to tell, and that story was about what he learned on his journey. This epiphany helped him to put aside the personal issues that happen on ANY expedition. It seemed to me at some instances in the film where he had a right to be VERY angry, he would run up with a smile, and kind words. I understood that this was because he was running for something more than himself.
- Someone asked how he moves past that mental barrier of pain, discomfort, etc. He talked about the first 100 miler he did and how half way through he wanted to quit. He talked about the dialogue he had with himself to just “not quit”. When he got to the end (and had won) he said he felt better than he ever had in his life. I was realizing afterwards that what he was talking about wasn’t so much “physically” better, but emotionally better for having “not quit”. He brought full it circle by reminding us that he is “every man” or “any man”, and that we all possess the ability to “not quit”.
Ray is pretty much a rock star and Running the Sahara changed his life. Last month he was part of an expedition of three men who broke the world record for an unsupported trek from the Hercules Inlet, to the Geographic South Pole (1,100km). Ray did it on snowshoes, being the first man to ever complete the route without skiis, and he did all that while answering questions for youth interactively every day (see here). Ray seems to be the kind of guy to use all of this to give back (it’s all bigger than him). He started impossible2possible as a program that integrates the youth into his adventures, and continues to raise money for H2OAfrica, OneXOne, Spread the Net, and Ryan’s Well.
Looking through all of Rays various sites it reminds me that there are still so many explorers on this planet. Despite the fact that you can use Google Earth from your living room to gaze on almost every foot of this planet, there seem to be so many people who are using the name of sport (running, rowing, cycling, skiing, trekking, mountaineering) to satisfy their own sense of adventure and exploration. I love it. It made me want more adventure in my life.